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Research Spotlights New Thinking about Daylighting’s Role in Building Design

Beyond the often referenced Heschong Mahone studies — establishing a positive correlation between daylighting and student test scores — research continues to validate what the building industry has intuitively known all along: natural light positively enhances well-being and productivity.

Case in point, a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology study, conducted a couple years ago, revealed that employees working in naturally lit buildings experienced higher energy levels and fewer incidences of vision fatigue, as compared to workspaces with only electrical lighting.

As published in the American Psychological Association’s Behavioral Neuroscience journal, the Swiss study also found the test subjects in naturally lit rooms were less sleepy by the evening and showcased better cognitive performance than test subjects inside artificially lit spaces.

In another fairly recent paper entitled “Design Recommendations Based on Cognitive, Mood and Preference Assessments in a Sunlit Workspace” — published in Lighting Research & Technology — researchers went a step deeper and conducted a holistic study of how design architecture, daylight conditions and occupant preferences all play into the effectiveness of a daylit space.

In conclusion, Dr. Nora Wang, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Dr. Mohamed Boubekri, associate professor of practice & technology, College of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, contend that traditional daylighting design, exclusively focusing on window size and daylight metrics, is flawed.

Instead, Wang and Boubekri propose that designers take a more human-oriented approach, considering factors such as mood, preference and cognition.

“This paper reports a study that aimed to establish a method of improving daylighting design using a behavioral approach. It underscores why daylighting design guidelines need to change in order to reflect the idea that human activities are important design criteria alongside the physical parameters,” state Wang and Boubekri.

By analyzing workspace characteristics — including sunlight, window view, privacy and control — as well as occupant behavioral response, the researchers have extracted what they believe are more accurate, and potentially effective daylight design guidelines.

Commenting on Wang and Boubekri’s noteworthy study, researchers at the Technical University of Denmark, in a Journal of Green Building article, observe, “A shift is currently taking place in the lighting research community from the traditional quantitative approaches toward a more human-oriented approach which is beginning to combine various scientific approaches to widen our understanding of the potential daylight has for humans.”

Daylighting is an important issue for interior designers and facility managers and one that can be an important part of your marketing and communications program. Demonstrating your understanding of the issue and how your product supports proper daylighting will strengthen your position as a valued partner to specifiers, installers, designers and end-users.